Chips & Bits last week joined the big boys of the channel by becoming the latest distributor to launch an integrated e-commerce Web site it has christened "Chips On-Line 2000".
The new look and feel site (http://www.chips.com.au), which is C&B's third-generation Web site since first mounting a Net presence three years ago, is integrated into the company's custom-developed back-end accounting package.
It now provides a range of services such as secure online order processing, live pricing, product catalogues, customisable downloadable price lists, account and order status, tech support and Web specials.
Scott Carlile, Chips & Bits general manager, said that including the development cost of the accounting package behind the current site represents a worthwhile investment of over $300,000, with the latest phase taking six months to finalise.
"As more and more business moves online, resellers and suppliers will be demanding higher levels of online competency from their distribution partners," Carlile said.
"No matter how much money you are going to throw at it, it is still a difficult thing to integrate a Web site with legacy back-end systems already in place and that is essential for effective e-commerce with your customers.
"We were fortunate in that we had already developed our own accounting system in-house and were able to interface with it relatively easily. Without having those skill sets internally it would have been very difficult and far more expensive."
The site was jointly developed by IT&e divisions TotalNetPresence and Internet Access Australia as well as Chips & Bits' internal e-commerce development team, headed by Bob Devers. The site is already delivering efficiencies and business to C&B, according to Carlile.
"We don't touch the orders," he said. "They are placed online before going through an automated credit approval process and then sent straight to the warehouse for picking and packing."
The expected efficiency gains come through less requirement for sales support at the front end from less phone calls and less data entry at the back end as the customers process their own orders. These people can now be deployed into more productive roles, Carlile said.
Carlile said C&B's investment in a full-time application developer for its accounting system and Web projects has been a worthwhile one.
"In distribution, your back-end systems are the most important investment you can make," he said. "Now that we've actually spent the dollars on getting that integration, it is cheap to maintain the information. We can now concentrate on giving our resellers a good reason to come back regularly. Carlile claims C&B already has 170 resellers that use the site every day and there are over 1000 that have been for a visit.
Collecting data on who comes and what they are interested in is all part of the new site's functionality.
"We know at a glance who is hitting our Web site and what products they are looking at," he said. "That information is all being collated and reports are being generated for our salespeople to follow up."